This poem was inspired by a visit to the war grave of my great-grandfather, Robert Twist, who was killed near Ypres in June 1917.
It was our guide who said,
“Do not dig in Flanders’ fields.”
The dead should not be asked
To yield their final resting place.
Let what is buried there remain
A generation’s bone and blood,
Scattered under miles of Flemish mud.
Yet Robert Twist, in Vlamertinghe,
Do you sometimes wake and drift
Unseen thorough morning’s mist,
Across these gentle copses, streams
Or glimpse the distant spires
And think how like to Lancashire it seems?
Do you listen to the church bells ring
Where shells and shrapnel maimed the sky,
And wonder can this be the hell
Where you and others fought and fell?
In the cemetery stands the cross
But whither Christ amongst so much loss?
Without you, there is no me,
No great-grandson, no memory
To preserve the fate so dearly won.
I feel distant before your grave
But it’s the least that I can do
For without me, there is no you.
Only flashbulbs at the Menin Gate,
For the enduring Last Post salute,
A simple, yet moving, tribute
Now greeted by the selfie sticks,
Waved instead of poppies
By half-believing tourists,
Eager to reach dinner by half past eight,
Who should, as the dead deserve,
Look back in anger asking why
They do not dig the fields in Flanders.